Kids Rock: Children's Music Comes of Age; New Spin on Age-Appropriate Songs Makes Them Fun Listening for Adults

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 10, 2006 | Go to article overview

Kids Rock: Children's Music Comes of Age; New Spin on Age-Appropriate Songs Makes Them Fun Listening for Adults


Byline: Scott Galupo, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Parents with strong musical preferences inevitably face the dilemma of whether and how aggressively to try to influence the musical preferences of their children.

"Isn't there something unsavory in the idea of your kid as a kind of tabula rasa for you to overwrite with your tastes? Less a child than a malleable Mini-Me?" observed New York magazine's Adam Sternbergh recently in an unflattering taxonomy of indie-yuppie culture.

The profile demonstrated a couple of things. First, getting your highly impressionable children to like, say, the Strokes or Wilco is quite easy. Second, it's obnoxious.

Knowing this, many parents grin and bear "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes," "Sesame Street" jingles and the Wiggles, concluding, reasonably, that there's no good reason to open the floodgates of popular culture any earlier than necessary.

A few years ago, though, Jim Powers, a record producer and founder of Chicago-based Minty Fresh Records, a ground-floor supporter of artists including Liz Phair, Cowboy Junkies and Veruca Salt, had a son and instantly became aware of the lack of listenable children's music.

Why, he wondered, when there was a bewilderingly precise array of choices available to pop-culture consumers, wasn't there something better? Why could parents more than tolerate - actually enjoy - movies such as "Toy Story" and "Shrek" but have no comparable audio alternative on the ride home?

Mr. Powers, formerly a major-label talent scout, hatched the idea of starting a children's music imprint and promptly went searching for the right artist to bring it off.

One night, subbing for his wife, he took son Brendan to Chicago's legendary Old Town School of Folk Music, where children can hear live music and take lessons. "There are five moms with kids sitting in their laps, and in comes this guy with a guitar," Mr. Powers recalls. "He plays some songs, the kids are clapping along, and the parents are moving along, too. I thought, 'That was a catchy song. I don't think I've heard that before.' "

Intrigued, he volunteered to his wife, "Let me take Brendan to class again."

The performer, it turned out, was Ralph Covert, and the material was original - and, Mr. Powers believed, a perfect vehicle for what would become the offshoot label Mini Fresh Records.

Mr. Covert was briefly reluctant to take the plunge into the children's music market - he had fronted, and still periodically reunites, a successful Chicago indie-pop band called, ironically in retrospect, the Bad Examples - but Mr. Covert soon accepted Mr. Powers' offer to headline the new label.

Ralph's World, as the project came to be dubbed, debuted in 2001; five more discs followed, and Disney Sound, a division of Walt Disney Records, recently purchased Mr. Covert's Mini Fresh catalog. In addition to steady touring, Mr. Covert also recorded a series of videos that see regular rotation on the Disney Channel's slate of "Playhouse Disney" morning programs, exposing him to a potentially huge audience of parents and children.

Mr. Covert found himself on the front end of a not-very-crowded niche of children-friendly indie-rockers that includes the esteemed nerd-rock duo They Might Be Giants, cow-punk pioneer Jason Ringenberg and ex-Del Fuegos frontman Dan Zanes, whose "Catch That Train!" album greets many an indie-yuppie parent in the CD racks at Starbucks Coffee.

As movies and television have become equally fertile ground for many actors, these artists easily move between the adult and children's music markets, as surfer-songwriter Jack Johnson proved earlier this year with his No. …

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